Amateur Photographers Out to Prove that Phoenix Is About “More than Cacti”

Refocus Phoenix is a group of Arizona amateur photographers that likes to “shoot pictures and hang out.” They welcome photographers of all experience levels and seem to have a lot of fun. I talked to group members Andy, James, Brian and Josh about the goals of their organization.

Andrea: Refocus Phoenix is a spin-off of Refresh Phoenix, a community of Internet designers and developers trying to do new things in the Phoenix metro area. Can you explain a little about what you’re hoping Refocus Phoenix will be able to do, now that it’s got its own unique group?

James: Because Phoenix is so large, it can be difficult for interest groups and other communities to form naturally. Organizations like Refocus Phoenix exist, I think, to give people a kick in the pants and jumpstart that community-building process. Refresh Phoenix (the web design/development community) was tremendously successful in this regard, and has been revitalizing the local web industry, and I’m hoping that Refocus Phoenix will do something similar for local amateur photographers who otherwise tend to keep to themselves.

Brian: provides an excellent online community for photographers around the world to share their work and learn from others. Refocus Phoenix is a community that does the same thing, but takes it to the next level. Beyond sharing and reviewing, Refocus Phoenix provides an opportunity for photographers to grow through practice and experience.

Andrea: It seems that an important part of what Refocus Phoenix is about is community. How do you define that?

James: When you hang out with other photographers, you can learn more about photography than any book can provide. You see the way they approach subjects, the way they look around, the way they hold their cameras. You can ask questions and share experiences. You find out that they have had the same frustrations and technical problems that you have. You can go out as a group and shoot the same thing, then find out what makes your own work unique by comparing it with other photographers’ interpretations. It’s an amazing education, and one that can’t be replaced by anything else.

Andrea: Your website says that members have different levels of experience and represent a variety of photography styles. But in addition to organizing specific shoots, you also have post-processing round tables. It seems one of the aims of the group is to share ideas and best techniques.

Andy: That will actually be our first educational event. I think education is important and as digital photographers, having strong post-processing skills (i.e. Photoshop, etc.) is essential to producing professional level work. At some point I hope to have all kinds of educational events where we have structured dialog about lighting, optics, composition, etc.

Josh: When you put a bunch of geeks together, they geek out… you know?

Andrea: James recently referenced this article about street photography and commented: “To me, that’s a lot of what makes Refocus Phoenix cool — it’s (to some extent, anyway) about seeing the amazingness of the mundane little area we live in.” At its core, is that what Refocus Phoenix is about?

James: I can’t speak for everyone, but that’s certainly what excites me personally about Refocus Phoenix. Arizona Highways and National Geographic have done a great job of covering the romantic beauty of the Arizona landscape, but I feel like there’s a vacuum when it comes to documenting the real experience of life in Arizona, which for most people means life in the Phoenix metro area. It may not be as iconic as, say, New York City, but there are plenty of stories here waiting to be told.

Brian: Even though the group is about bringing together and sharing with other local photographers, the name was derived from the idea of showing everyone that there is more in Arizona than desert landscapes and cacti.

Andrea: When you’re not out on actual shoots, I see you’re still staying in touch and talking about what’s new and important in the field, and getting the word out about what you’re doing. You’ve got a main site, a Flickr group, a Google group and a page.

Andy: The Flickr and Google groups were the first thing to happen. The website was created to:

1. Tie those social services together (i.e. Flickr, Google) so we had a single landing page we could send new people

2. Stimulate morale by giving us a proper site we could call our own and feel proud of

The component was just added recently because people were posting a lot of links to the forum so it just made sense.

Josh: These tools really rock! If you haven’t tried them out with a group of your own, you are definitely missing out. Oh, don’t forget to check out the geomapping section in flickr – you get an interactive map of where we have been around shooting photos!

Andrea: What are your thoughts on where photography is going? Both in the amateur realm and the professional arena? It seems the lines between the two are increasingly blurring.

Andy: I think you get much more practice with digital because you can afford to be reckless in ways that just aren’t cost effective with film. I probably shoot 300+ photos every time we get together because I don’t have to worry about the cost of film or developing. This is huge for people who are just getting started because they can practice as much as they want without the fear of wasting resources. People tend to grow faster when they’re free to just do whatever. And it also helps that you can get a nice DLSR for under $700 now. However, it should be considered that, as result of these services that make it easy to share photos, we’re simply seeing more good work that was already there. Much of that work doesn’t exist as a result of the new technologies… we just get to see it now. I think it’s actually somewhere in between more new photographers and just more visibility for existing ones.

James: As has happened in the past several years with the written word, I think that photography (and other forms of art, entertainment, and communication) will continue to be reclaimed by the masses. While the increase in content in general can be overwhelming, it nevertheless helps to level the playing field, and increases the opportunities for individual talents to shine based on merit alone, when they might have remained undiscovered in generations past due to lack of connections or influence.

Brian: Professional photographers have been feeling the crunch of this shift for several years. Instead of being able to make a living selling photos as products – which has proven that thousands of people, including amateurs, can do just as well – they are forced to adapt their business model from a product- and service-based model to a primarily service-based model. Stock photography, a product-only business model, changed the most rapidly, as the supply of cheap stock photos flooded the market. The future of the professional photography industry – for individuals, at least – will be as a service (e.g. wedding photography) rather than a product (e.g. stock photography).

[tags]photography community, Phoenix photographers, andrea weckerle, refocus phoenix[/tags]

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